Flora cried out as I burst through the door of my office, "Sammy, you-"
I cut her off. "Flora, get me Captain Sinclair on the phone. Tell him I've got some new evidence in the Milkbone case."
"And after you get him, call up Sonya Mao and ask her to hold. I've got some questions I've got to ask her." I'd hung up my fedora and my trenchcoat, and was headed for the inner sanctum of my office.
"Hold it!" Flora shouted. I stopped where I was, turned and looked at her. "That's what I've been trying to tell you. Sonya Mao just called. She's at her house. She sounded real scared, Sammy, she said you should call her as soon as you came in."
I thought about it for a fraction of a second. Sinclair wasn't going anywhere. "All right, Flora. I'll call her from my office."
"The number's on your desk," she said. I noticed for the first time a look of real concern on her face. Sonya must have sounded pretty bad. I hurried to my desk and dialed the number.
"Hello?" said Sonya tentatively.
"Sonya, it's Sam."
"Sam! Thank God! I --- " There was a muffled sound and she was cut off. I heard some kind of noise on the other end of the line.
"Sonya! Hello? Sonya!"
"Hi there, Spaniel," came the calm, cool voice of Lou Furo. "You've been a hard man to catch up with. I didn't think you'd be too anxious to return my call, so I arranged for Sonya here to help me get in touch with you. She's so much more persuasive."
"Furo, have you gone off your rocker? What are you doing -"
"You know damn well, what I'm doing, mutt. Now listen closely. I'd have thought that a mug your age would have gotten over chasing kitty cats around by now, but since you can't seem to help yourself, I'll give you one more to catch. Miss Mao will be at the Milkbone estate in about an hour. After that, she's going someplace where you'll have a much harder time finding her. If you care to say goodbye, be there. Who knows? Maybe you'll get to go with her. I trust you can find the place on your own, being a P.I. and all. See you soon, Sammy." A click on the other end of the wire told me he had hung up. I placed the receiver slowly back on its cradle.
I sat still for a moment. Furo had Sonya, and he was using her to get to me. Why? Maybe I'd gotten too close to the truth. He must have been following me or something - it was the only way he could have known. I wished I could doubt his ability to follow through on his threat, but the way I had it figured, he was already responsible for at least two deaths. A third probably wouldn't rattle him too badly.
I went to my liquor cabinet and poured myself a stiff one to settle my nerves and collect my thoughts. Furo was setting a trap, hoping I'd rush in. The last thing I wanted to do was to play into his hands, but it looked like I had no choice if I wanted to save Sonya. I could go to Sinclair with what I'd figured out, but I had no evidence and the old wolf wasn't in the habit of doing me favors. Besides, even if I got him to take some action, it would never be in time, and I wasn't ruling out the possibility that Furo had a contact in the precinct. If I tried to go to the cops, Furo might well know about it before Sinclair did.
Then there were my other wolf friends, the out-of-towners staying at the Hotel Esperanto. They might be inclined to help, but only if it didn't interfere with their ultimate goal. That was a guarantee I couldn't give them, and I was uncomfortable doing any kind of business with them anyway. An image of worms flashed in my mind, and I shook my head to ward it off. I thought over my other professional associates and colleagues, but there was nobody among them who I could see as being particularly helpful in this scenario. It looked like I was just going to have to bite the bullet and walk into Furo's trap. I pressed the button on the intercom on my desk. "Flora, get in here."
I gave Flora a quick rundown of the case so far as I went through my desk and put together the gear I thought I'd need for the confrontation. I made sure she had instructions on what to tell Captain Sinclair if I didn't return, and I dictated a letter to be delivered to the wolves at the hotel before she put in the call to the cops. I gave her a couple of extra hundred bucks, just in case, then grabbed my coat and hat and headed out the door.
The Milkbone mansion was fairly new, and was in an exclusive section of the hills that had been nothing but woods a scant ten years ago. The gates to the drive stood open as I approached, and I cautiously turned off the road and up the long, narrow drive. The way was lined with tall trees on either side, deepening into forest as far as I could see. I took the drive slowly and nervously, not knowing what to expect, or when to expect it. For all I knew Milkbone had a small army of men waiting for me.
I came to a place where a smaller track turned off of the main drive. A couple of old saw horses blocked the road just ahead of the turn off. I took the hint and turned right, proceeding for a while down an even narrower, unpaved section of road. The drive ended in a wide open patch of ground, and there were several small buildings that might have been garages or storage sheds. I slowed to a halt. I heard a voice shout from my left, "All right, Spaniel. That's far enough." I turned and looked. Lou Furo stood at the edge of the woods with his gun drawn and pointed in my direction. "Park it," he said. I put the car in neutral, pulled the hand brake and turned off the engine. I kept my hands low and out of sight. Just up ahead, Georgie stepped into sight from behind a building, a rifle at his shoulder and pointed at me.
"All right, Spaniel, out of the car," Furo called, moving slowly closer, "and keep your hands where I can see 'em. Georgie's a nervous guy anyway."
"Not so fast, Furo," I said in a loud voice, and without moving my hands. "I want to see Sonya first."
"I'm calling the shots here, mutt, not you. Get out I said."
"You a gambling man, Furo?" I asked. "'Cause if so we can wager on whether Georgie can drop me before I drop you. I'll be generous and give you even money, though I know how I'm betting. Now show me Sonya, or we play the first hand."
He considered it for a moment, then called out "Hey Mack - bring out the dame." I kept my eyes firmly on Furo, but I heard a door creak open, and the faint sounds of movement as someone came into the clearing. "There she is, Spaniel," Furo said.
My gaze didn't waver. "Have her call out to me," I said.
Furo's gaze narrowed even further. He practically spit at his unseen accomplice, "Mack - take that thing out of her mouth and let her talk to the dog."
It was all I could do to keep my eyes fixed on the barrel of his gun as I listened to what was going on behind my head. I heard a soft whimper, and then a voice. "Sam - you shouldn't have come." It was Sonya.
Furo's face broke into a smirk. "You satisfied now, Spaniel? Now get your paws up" I raised them and he moved slowly towards the car, gun level with my head. When he reached the door, he jerked it open and stepped back. "Get out," he said. I slid to the edge of the car seat and stood. The gun that had been lying in my lap slipped to the ground. Furo glanced down at it for a minute, then called over to the big dog, "Georgie - c'mere and search him while I keep him covered. Spaniel, put your paws on your head and keep 'em there."
George came over to where we stood, leaning his rifle against the hood of the car as he approached. While Furo kept his gun leveled on me, Georgie gave me a thorough pat-down, relieving me of the luger in my shoulder holster as well as the knife strapped to my ankle. He went over me a second time, but found no other weapons. "He's clean, boss," he said finally, stepping back to the front of the car and picking up his gun again.
"OK, move it," Furo said, gesturing with his gun barrel. As I turned and walked around the front of the car, I saw Sonya for the first time. She wore a long, black dress, and her face looked fretful and drawn. Her hands were behind her back, and Mack, a hard-eyed, mean-looking coyote, had a firm grip on her upper arm. I walked over to where they were, and our captors guided the both of us into one of the buildings. In the dim light, I made out a couple of wooden chairs. They sat us down, and proceeded to tie my hands back behind my chair and my ankles together. Sonya's hands were already tied - they simply lashed her ankles to the legs of the chair and ran a few loops of rope around her middle. I too was tied to my chair in the same way, and they pulled the ropes tight across my chest.
"You have gone off your nut, haven't you, Furo?" I asked. "This treatment proves it. After going to all the trouble of getting me out here, why not just put a slug in my head and be done with it?"
The ferret looked at me sourly. "You're really tempting me Spaniel. But I have other plans, and they call for me to keep you around for a little while longer. Now, I've got some business to attend to, and it's getting late. Georgie will keep you two company until I get back." He walked to the door and turned around. "Don't go anywhere," he said, and he walked out of the building. Georgie accompanied him outside for the moment. Mack had already left.
I called over to Sonya in a stage whisper. "Sonya, I may need you to distract him. I'm not sure what I'm going to have to do, but don't worry - I'll get us out of this. Just follow my lead when things start to get hot."
She whispered back to me "What do you want me to do?"
"I'm not sure," I said, "you'll have to use your judgment, but if you see me shrug my left shoulder, make a lot of noise and try to get him to pay attention to you."
She nodded, but I could see the worry in her eyes. I couldn't really blame her - I didn't seem to be in much better shape than she was.
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